Friday, 9 March 2018

Kromolodics #2 It Don't Mean A Thing vs. Cherokee

  This is a more advanced Kromolodic puzzle: Ray Noble's 'Cherokee' is 64 bars long, moving a semitone higher in the third 16 before working its way back to the tonic key. Duke Ellington's 'It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing' is a typical 32 bar sequence resolving in the same key, but beginning on the relative minor. In a Kromolodic improvisation the player would have to reconcile the double length form of Cherokee against the Ellington sequence. Taking things a stage further, it is interesting to try the first 16 of Cherokee and the bridge simultaneously, together with the sequence of It Don't Mean A Thing. In a perfect Kromolodic solution each cadence of (all three sequences!) would be referenced, the musical essence and polarities of each tune would be retained, and the line would work if either tune were played straight by an unsuspecting band:

Kromolodic Line: It Don't Mean A Thing versus Cherokee
  Studying Ernst Levi's Negative Harmony, Ornette Coleman's Harmolodics, Lennie Tristano's techniques of rhythmic displacement and side-slipping, and also John Coltrane's Giant Steps substitute progressions will all help to visualise how Kromolodics works. The fact that Sebastiaan De Krom, a drummer, invented this technique is absolutely key here. The drummer feels the rhythmic and harmonic polarities heading towards the important junctures of the tunes, and all the musical forces converging at these points. As a means of generating interesting melodic lines Kromolodics is exciting and compelling, and has all sorts of implications across the board.

  The late, great free jazz trombonist Albert Manglesdorff showed me at a class some years ago how he sometimes visualised imaginary chord progressions, as an alternative to playing 'free'. Hermann Hesse's novel The Glass Bead Game, beloved of composer Karl Heinz Stockhausen, is a fascinating book about examining seemingly unconnected elements and finding commonalities. Kromolodics is a very new art with all sorts of interesting applications. It remains to be seen how far improvising musicians will be able to take it.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Kromolodics - A Revolutionary Concept in Jazz

The celebrated London-based, Dutch/U.S. drummer Sebastiaan De Krom has hit upon a completely new intellectual concept in melodic jazz, which is making musicians' heads spin all over town. His weekly trio gig at the Troubadour in Kensington, at which Sebastiaan has been reworking the Sonny Rollins trio concept, has become a laboratory for radical ideas and ground-breaking techniques. De Krom's trio arrangement of Green Dolphin Street requires that the saxophone and bass player, for extended periods, visualise the chord sequence of the song, and the sequence of Night and Day at the same time! This also takes into account the fact that the lengths of the forms of the tunes are different. At first glance this looks like madness, but when you take the plunge it is incredibly liberating. With a lot of listening the experience is similar to how Charlie Haden must have felt, following Ornette Coleman's harmolodics by ear into unknown territories in the early 1960s.

  In the 'Kromolodics' arrangement of Green Dolphin vs. Night and Day, there is plenty to work with, There are tonic polarity points every four or eight bars, and contemporary melodic improvisers should have no problem with blurring the lines between major and minor tonality, or using Phrygian modes in place of dominants. The second half of the bridge of Green Dolphin Street, superimposed a minor third above the tonic II-V-I has a diminished 'four tonics' sound, or even the Negative Harmony, minor plagal feel to it. However, the idea for the improvising musician of holding two ideas in the mind at once for such an extended period of time is perhaps the most revolutionary idea De Krom has come up with. At a recent session, by dipping into Jerry Bergonzi's famous Night and Day vs. Giant Steps sequence, I was able to keep three plates spinning at once. The bass player present was the superb, open-minded and -eared Oli Hayhurst, with De Krom himself grinning broadly from the drums as the mayhem unfolded.

Negative Harmony Stella by Starlight

Pudding points the way forward

This reworking of Stella is an exercise in blending Negative and regular harmonic principles. The cadences are negative but I have stuck to the modulating keys in the positive - Bb major to Eb major etc.. This is therefore not a true inversion, but it did make it easier to stick closely to the original Victor Young melody and preserve the essence of the song. In this way it was possible to arrive at a reharmonisation in which the constant twists in Stella by Starlight between major and minor keys were reversed. Funnily enough the drama of the song is preserved, transformed, and quite a pleasing effect is achieved. I have taken numerous liberties in order to form musically satisfying chords, and I am not bothered whether this is proper Negative Harmony or not. I have also used 9th chords, as would be usual in a modern jazz performance. For the first chord for example, the intervals of the half diminished chord reversed would create a dominant 7th. Continuing down to the 9th would give a rather poor sounding minor 7th chord with a flat 9th. In regular harmony a diatonic 9th on a half diminished chord would also give a nasty chord with a flat 9th, so pianists from Bill Evans onwards changed this 9th to a natural 9th, for a very expressive chord. In the same way, if we widen the interval with the Negative Harmony chord, we get a major 7th with a #5 and natural 9th, a much better chord.

Here is an analysis of the first twelve bars, in which major and minor II-Vs and the so-called 'backdoor' cadence, the Negative Harmony, minor plagal in the positive world, are all used. To see how the Negative keys are achieved, refer to my previous posting on Negative Harmony:

Here is the full Stella by Starlight reworking. I hope it is musically satisfying to some extent and fun to play. It certainly takes you out of the box, as the usual formulas and licks for cycle of fifths harmony will not work: